New study warns against major climate change vulnerabilities in North African Ports Cities

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A recently published study, jointly prepared by Dr. Essam Heggy, NASA expert and research scientist at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, Dr. Sara Fouad, a Humboldt Research Fellow hosted by TUM Landscape Architecture (who grew up in Alexandria) and Prof. Udo Weilacher, Chair of Landscape Architecture and Transformation at the TUM School of Engineering and Design, shows how rapidly ancient, formerly well-adapted cultural landscapes in climate-vulnerable regions are collapsing due to misguided developments in landscape architecture, transport development and urban planning. The authors explain in a paper how Egypt´s UNESCO site Alexandria and its six million inhabitants became increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding and erosion. They credit a series of development projects that took place over the last decade where priority has been given to expanding highways and commercial areas by filling up important waterways that were crucial for regulating hydroclimatic extremes.

Satellite imagery compares image of Alexandria’s Port in 2000 to 2022.
Satellite imagery compares image of Alexandria’s Port in 2000 to 2022. Image: USC Viberti School of Engineering

The researchers used satellite images, mapping records, in-situ validations on the ground, and public questionnaires to assess the rapid increase in climate vulnerabilities. The published paper explains how filling in waterways reduces coastal cities’ ability to mitigate climate extremes. Traditionally, canals would cool the city climate, and in the process of flowing out to sea, deposit sediment on the coast that would create a natural bulwark against erosion and storm surges. Without these ancient waterways depositing new sediment on the coastlines, Alexandria’s coasts are increasingly depleted of these natural barriers against sea-level rise and increasing storm surges. These developments in port cities like Alexandria accelerate coastal degradation and increases the risks associated with climate extremes.
Udo Weilacher believes that filling waterways with landfill has another far-reaching impact: decreasing the public’s sensitivity to their situated proximity to the coast and hydroclimate vulnerabilities. “When you take out the waterways, people will not feel rooted in their landscape anymore, and they lose their cultural connection to both the Nile and the Mediterranean Sea,” says Weilacher.
More information:
Chair of Landscape Architecture and Transformation
Article in Cities: Waterways transformation in the vulnerable port city of Alexandria